Guest Blog: Farah Sater on the role of women in the Middle East Protests

Date: 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day on 8 March 2011

Location: Facebook

Event: Thousands of statuses praising for the first time the role of the Arab women not only as nurturing mothers, loving sisters or girlfriends, but in inspiring, organizing and leading the revolutions which have led to dethroning dictators in the Middle East and North Africa (Ben Ali and Mubarak) and are still expected to topple more monarchs and despots in Libya, Yemen, Bahrain and to change the status quo in Lebanon and Palestine.

Since the beginning of 2011 the Arab world has been witnessing massive popular demonstrations resulting in the resignations of corrupt rulers to even "escaping" (like former Tunisian president Ben Ali's flight to Saudi Arabia). These manifestations blossoming almost everywhere in the Arab world today make the headlines of international, regional and local news, not only for their authenticity (being mostly led by apolitical people) and peacefulness but most importantly for having broken rooted stereotypes such as the images attributed to Arab and Muslim women or to Christian-Muslim relationships.

The interest in Arab women's leadership is growing nowadays, due to the late media-coverage of their activism, however it is important to note that Arab women have always fought for social justice causes through local movements and initiatives. An example of Arab women's leadership in the fight for justice and fundamental rights comes from Lebanon, where women made, and still make up, the majority of an organized action that started in the early Nineties (after the end of the Lebanese civil war) to call for the rights of return of Lebanese political detainees in Syrian prisons. The protest tents in front of the UN House in downtown Beirut is proof of that.

There is attention to the role of Arab women techies and Arab women who are using web 2.0 platforms to create campagns. For example, one of the most visited online advocacy websites is that of Asmaa Mahfouz from Egypt (leader of April 6 Movement); her YouTube' video mobilized a huge number of followers to take the streets of Cairo and resist.

In Bahrain, Noor Al. (name not revealed to protect the privacy of the activist) a female Facebook activist is currently creating a platform where she will be posting Al Khalifa's fake videos and news and publishing the real videos and news, for the visitors to compare and conclude the reality of [the] Bahraini situation". In Yemen, Tawakkul Karman, a female journalist and human rights activist, has become a leading Yemeni revolution "Image de marque" as she gets profiled in international online news sites.

It is of a crucial importance here to consider that despite the very positive aspect of Arab women's activism and leadership in current revolutions, all hopes are for these peaceful protests to lead not only to new governments, but also to a new era for women rights. "I agree, talking vaguely about an anti-sectarian system in Lebanon without specifying demands and rights to advocate for, cannot guarantee an effective power handling nor a citizens' state. Therefore naturally if we're to speak about civil rights in Lebanon, the most urgent reform would be to grant Lebanese women full citizenship and nationality rights" says Farah Zahr, a young activist of Lebanon's March 20 protests.

While some talk about an Arab renaissance or resurrection, the expectations should face the realities: high rates of unemployment and illiteracy, deficient women's rights regulations and laws. Women who make up a large component of the revolutions should be aware, organized and lobby for equal participation in the political and public life and in the making of the new Arabic modern states. They should be able to rewrite their countries' histories alongside men.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own.